Reflections on Educational Assessment and Scalability

As some of you may know, we are currently in the midst of a big electronic portfolio pilot project here at UD. Our primary focus for this first round of projects is to gather student artifacts to assess the achievement of some of our ten general education goals by our undergraduate population.

This project, like many others involving changes in educational practices, brings back to the surface the struggle between providing top quality education versus controlling costs and staff time. Of course, it would be great if every college student could have a one-on-one experience with a faculty member for their whole four years, but let’s be realistic, it won’t happen (overnight) –unless students are willing to pay the professor’s salary in its entirety plus administrative costs, which would bring the tuition fees well over $100K per year.

In order to be able to make sure that students get the same kind of educational experience, we usually come up with sets of standards, definitions of what students should know and be able to do after going through educational programs. The most famous ones are the SAT, TOEFL, GMAT, etc. Standardized tests scores are usually used to predict one’s probability of success in certain areas of studies and therefore considered in accepting students for undergraduate and graduate programs.

So these tests are some way to set the bar. In order to be allowed to pursue a certain career path, you are required to AT LEAST demonstrate that you have acquired this knowledge, these skills. They are requirements to allow an institution to graduate you without shame, allow you to use its reputation to market yourself as a viable contributor to society.

But standardized tests, though very cost efficient, don’t tell the whole story. College students need to be able to use their time to develop themselves beyond standards. And I think this is where the use of eportfolios comes into play and adds value to higher education.

Below is a visual representation of what I have in mind when it comes to the role of standardized testing versus portfolios. I have aligned the last column with the Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, Herzberg’s Hygiene-Motivation Theory, and Bloom’s Taxonomy, to show which kind of activities are best assessed with different modalities.

Standardized Test vs. Portfolios

Of course, there is nothing scientific about this, but it is still my perception of the Standardized Testing-Portfolio continuum. The lower you are, the more general and the easiest it is to scale up (explicit knowledge, hit or miss); the higher you are, the most specific and demanding it is to assess, and the more important it is to involve experts to make judgement calls (implicit knowledge, values, attitudes, shades of gray).

So, my question to you is:

Is there a way to scale up the use of electronic portfolios to assess higher-level competencies in higher education? Please share your thoughts!